If you wanted to be alerted to someone else’s movements by secretly tracking the location of their smartphone, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are many apps. And Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) wants to make them illegal.
In March, Franken introduced a bill known as the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014, and on Wednesday, the subcommittee that he chairs (the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law) held hearings on the bill.
A lot of these so-called stalking apps market themselves to worried spouses or lovers afraid that they are being cheated on. But Franken’s top concern is victims of domestic violence, as he explains in a video. He recounts the story of a women who, while getting a restraining order from her husband, received a frightening text from the man asking her why she was at the courthouse.
With this bill, the husband who installed the app without the wife’s permission would be in violation, but so would the makers of the app itself.
In addition to banning apps that record GPS location and secretly send it to other people, the bill would require companies to get people’s permission before collecting location data off their smartphones, tablets, or in-car navigation devices like OnStar and Garmin. It would also require permission before sharing location information with third parties and would mandate that the companies share some information on who they sell that data to.
It exempts parents using GPS to track their kids and exempts emergency responders using GPS in a crises, such as to track victims. It also limits damages to $US1 million.
Privacy advocates and domestic abuse experts testified in favour of this bill. But Robert D. Atkinson, founder of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) raised concerns that the bill could have unintended consequences. He feared the opt-in requirements would create “speed bumps” and discourage app developers from using GPS data in innovative new ways.
It’s rare, though not unheard of, for an app to be considered illegal. For instance Popcorn Time, the hugely popular controversial app once dubbed “the Netflix for pirated movies” was questionable, and in the end, its maker’s took it down.
This is not the first time Franken introduced an anti-stalking app bill. He proposed a similar one in 2012.